Audi's McNish ready for 6 Hours of Silverstone challenge
Allan McNish is looking distinctly nonplussed.
"I think you can probably tell that it doesn't worry me as I didn't know that was the case at all," he comments.
Hmm, perhaps asking the double Le Mans winner if he was concerned that this was the first year since 1999 that he hadn't won a race in sports cars was not the done thing especially after I'd just been royally treated to not one, but two, hair-raising stints around Silverstone in an Audi R8 LMS alongside the genial Scot. I was just glad that I posed the question after and not before I was tightly strapped in.
It's true that with three races of the 2011 Intercontinental Le Mans Cup still to run, including the Autosport 6 Hours of Silverstone on 11 September, McNish, who has won the race three times, has enough opportunities to put the record straight but it's also true that this season has been a mixed one for someone so used to success.
Two fourth places at Sebring and Imola, third at Spa and 'that' crash at Le Mans have all added up to a frustrating time for McNish. While his Audi team enjoyed claiming a 10th Le Mans crown in June, McNish spent most of that weekend recovering from a huge shunt at more than 140mph that ended his race within an hour of the start. So what does he remember of that accident and what was going through his mind at the time?
"I remember everything, all of it. I didn't lose consciousness or anything, so I knew what was going on. Your first instincts are recovery and with that I mean 'is the situation recoverable?' If that's not possible, you're checking for your own recovery – 'can I get out?' – and that's what I had to do."
It's testament to the engineering and design of the Audi R18 TDI that once marshals had righted the car, McNish could pop open the door and climb out of the still-intact cockpit. It took a few weeks to recover completely from the accident but the former F1 driver was back to his old self for the next ILMC round, the 1000km of Imola, in early July.
For that race, Audi prepared their new R18s with a high-downforce spec for the first time but both cars struggled to match arch rivals, Peugeot. McNish hopes that the improvements and development of the car during testing will go some way to rectify that problem when they set the cars up similarly for Silverstone.
"Preparations have been pretty good. We've got a lot of testing coming up but so far everything that we've done has been around general improvements to the car. As much as we got trounced when it came to the [Imola] race, we actually learnt quite a lot – where we were good and where we weren't and where we needed to improve."
Finding the speed to carve a way through the traffic at Imola proved to be Audi's downfall but McNish is not expecting the tables to be turned at Silverstone.
"I don't think roles will be reversed when we come here, I think it will be a tight fight like it has been in every other race. They'll be a bit better in some areas of the circuit and we'll be better in others. That's how it's been over the past four years and I don't see it being any different here."
The nature of endurance racing has changed in recent years with improved reliability meaning that the slightest errors or problems can be the difference between winning and losing as this year's Le Mans victory demonstrated, so does six hours rather than 24 make the pressure even greater?
"Yeah, maybe, but we've been racing that close [with Peugeot] for about four years since they came in and also prior to that with Porsche America and Accura. It does mean that from the moment you hit the track on Friday until you go home on the Sunday, you're absolutely on it, on the limit all the time which is the way it should be – it's called racing, it's about pushing the boundaries."
What that means for us is the chance to witness another intense battle of wills between the two leading prototype teams that have dominated endurance racing for the past few years and one that should be as intriguing to follow as any in recent times.
The Autosport 6 Hours of Silverstone takes place at the British Grand Prix circuit in Northamptonshire from 9-11 September. For more information and tickets priced from £12 call 08443 728260 or visit the Silverstone website.